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Tourists instead of oil

The Azeri Times

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Amid falling oil prices, Azerbaijan strives to double the number of foreign tourists visiting the country

Azerbaijan recently announced the beginning of a new phase in its development of tourism. At the first summit on national tourism on 18 October, the head of the State Tourism Agency, Fuad Nagiyev, said that one of the priorities was to spark the interest of foreigners in Azerbaijan as a tourist destination, and that this was only part of the “important work” being done.  

Tourism has indeed been thriving – Bloomberg recently included Azerbaijan in its top ten of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in 2018.

Baku Boulevard, Novemer 2018
Baku Boulevard, Novemer 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Baku, November 2018
Baku, November 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Maiden Tower, Baku, November 2018
Maiden Tower, Baku, November 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Baku Ferris Wheel, November 2018
Baku Ferris Wheel, November 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Mosque of Martyrs, October 2018
Mosque of Martyrs, October 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Government House, October 2018
Government House, October 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV

According to official statistics, 1.5 million tourists visited Azerbaijan in the first six months of 2018 – 10% more than last year. Until 2023, the government wants to double the number of visitors to the country.

An increasing number of tourists come from Russia (31.6 percent), followed by visitors from Georgia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Ukraine.

Visa-free travel

“We have traveled in the South Caucasus but we have never been to Azerbaijan, which is why we decided to visit”, said a tourist from Rostov, who visited Baku for the first time, “We like everything here, particularly the city center, which is very impressive. And services are good, too.”

Another visitor told Meydan TV that Russian tourists are increasingly interested in Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus because obtaining visas for Europe and the US has become more difficult for them.

At an Azerbaijani-Russian interregional forum in Baku in September, Fuad Nagiyev from the State Tourism Agency confirmed that the number of Russian tourists has been increasing: “More than 600,000 Russian citizens visited Azerbaijan during the first two months of of 2018, which is 20 percent more than last year during the same period.”

Citizens of nine post-Soviet countries including Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia enjoy visa-free entry into Azerbaijan. They can stay for two weeks without having to register.

During the first six months of 2018, about 734,000 tourists from post-Soviet countries took advantage of this opportunity.

No language barriers

One of the factors attracting tourists from the former Soviet Union is that Russian is widely spoken in Azerbaijan, not only in Baku but also in the regions, where Russian can be heard in any café, restaurant, shop or even on public transport.

For tourists from Turkey and Iran, there is no language barrier either – almost all Azeris understand Turkish, and visitors from Iran are mostly ethnic Azeris.

Apart from Baku, one of the most popular destinations is the ancient town of Shaki, which is located on the southern part of the Greater Caucasus mountain range.

Shaki, Azerbaijan, October 2018
Shaki, Azerbaijan, October 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Shaki, Azerbaijan, October 2018
Shaki, Azerbaijan, October 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Khan's Placace of Shaki, October 2018
Khan’s Placace of Shaki, October 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Caravanserai, Shaki, October 2018
Caravanserai, Shaki, October 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV

Miravari Rasulova, a local, says that tourists often visit the Palace of Shaki Khans, which dates back to the 18th century, the caravanserai, and the local market.

In one of the shops, craftsman Agil Karimov makes so-called papakhas, wool hats that are worn by men throughout the Cacucasus. They are worn by dancers as well as shepherds, and depending on the quality of the wool prices vary from ₼25 ($15) to ₼300-350 ($175). He says that many of his customers are foreign tourists.

Shop of Agil Kerimov, Shaki, October 2018
Shop of Agil Kerimov, Shaki, October 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV
Shop of Agil Kerimov, Shaki, October 2018
Shop of Agil Kerimov, Shaki, October 2018 Photographer: Meydan TV

Vafa Mustafayeva, who works at the local tourist information, says the Azerbaijani government holds exhibitions related to tourism around the world in order to attract a greater number of tourists.

“I took part in such an exhibition in France in 2015. I can say that more tourists from France visited Azerbaijan after that,” she told Meydan TV.

Recipe for success

According to economist Togrul Mashalli, the Azerbaijani tourist sector would benefit from a revision of the country’s visa policy, following the example of neighboring Georgia, where visa-free travel is granted to citizens of many countries.

In the beginning of 2018, Azerbaijan simplified the visa procedures for citizens of eleven countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel, Japan, and China.   

“Immediately after the government simplified the visa regime for citizens of Arab countries, the number of tourists from the UAE increased sevenfold. This year, more than 40,000 Arabs have visited Azerbaijan – that’s 20 percent of all tourists who visited the country. A similar system should be applied to citizens of other countries as well”, Togrull Mashalli said.

“An electronic visa processing system was established, but it’s still a visa”, Mashalli continues, “Right now, we have visa requirements even for neighboring countries like Iran and Turkey.”

Azerbaijan

Demonstration in support of Azerbaijani blogger on hunger strike in prison: fines and arrests

The Azeri Times

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Four demonstrators have been sentenced to three weeks in prison on charges of organising unauthorised gatherings. The demonstrators recently protested the launch of a new criminal case against well-known Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov.

Among the arrestees are two journalists and two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).

Another four participants were fined 300 to 400 manats (approximately 177 to 236 dollars).

Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike in protest against new charges of “attacking a prison guard” that are being levied against him.

The demonstration

Several dozen journalists and activists gathered on 3 January near the Neftchiler metro station on the outskirts of Baku, shouting “Freedom for Mehman!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”.

Five minutes later the police stopped the rally and detained 15 people.

Seven women were released at the police station, and the rest were taken to the Nizami District Court. Three other women were released there, and five men were left in custody until a court decision was made.

On 4 January the court sentenced journalist Afgan Sadigov to 22 days in prison, while journalist Nurlan Qahramanov and PFPA members Elmkhan Agayev and Sakhavat Nabiyev were sentenced to 21 days in prison.

 Police halt rally of family members of dead soldiers in Baku, one arrested

 Where is the red line for Azerbaijan’s journalists?

Hunger strike

Mehman Huseynov is an Azerbaijani video blogger who has actively criticised the wealth and corruption of certain officials.

In early 2017 he was detained by the police. After his release, Huseynov complained that the head of the police station had tortured him. He was again arrested and received two years in prison on charges of defamation.

Local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates have spoken out in his defence, considering him a victim of political repression.

On 26 December 2018, with just a few months of his prison term remaining, Huseynov was accused of attacking a prison officer. A new criminal case has now been filed against him. In response, the blogger has gone on hunger strike.

The Caucasian Knot writes that on 30 December his condition worsened, and at the insistence of his brother, agreed to drink water.

The head of the public relations department of the Prison Service, Mehman Sadiqov, stated that Huseynov was not on a hunger strike and that he had no health problems.

Huseynov’s father tried to meet with him in the detention facility, but was refused access. His lawyers are also unaware of his current condition.

Mehman Huseynov has received outspoken support from Reporters Without Borders.

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Azerbaijan

Imprisoned Azerbaijani political blogger on hunger strike

The Azeri Times

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A prominent Azerbaijani political blogger and activist is on a hunger strike after the authorities brought new charges against him shortly before he was to be released from a two-year prison term.

Mehman Huseynov, once Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 on charges that he defamed police officers who allegedly tortured him. He had been scheduled to be released in March 2019 but on December 26, prison authorities brought new charges against him.    

Huseynov allegedly did not cooperate with an inspection in prison and attacked a guard, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov, according to a statement from the state prison service. “He physically resisted and injured Abdalov,” as well as “scattered and broke” items in an office in the prison, the statement said. The prison service also claimed that Huseynov had 461 manats (about $270) in his possession, which is against prison regulations. The new charges carry a potential prison term of up to seven years.   

The day after the new charges were brought, Huseynov, 26, stopped eating and drinking, his family reported.

This is the third time in the last year that the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed new charges on a detained political activist, thus prolonging their terms. Similar punishments were meted out to a religious activist, Telman Shiraliyev, and a senior member of the opposition Popular Front Party, Mammad Ibrahim.

“The government’s repunishments are the result of their understanding that they will never control [Huseynov] by imprisonment,” said Jamil Hasanli, an Azerbaijani historian and political activist, in a Facebook post. “The government does not want to forgive this young blogger for exposing their corruption.”

“We were expecting this kind of provocation against Mehman. He was warned that he would not be released in March,” his brother, Emin Huseynov – also a political activist, living in exile in Switzerland – told the news agency Turan. “The charges are nonsense. Who believes someone can beat prison officer while being under arrest?”

Emin Huseynov said that his brother was being punished for statements he made at his mother’s funeral in August: “Breaking me down is possible only with death. Today I have lost my mother. If they release me alive from jail, I will double my activities.”

Emin Huseynov said that Mehman started drinking water again after four days at the insistence of his family, though he continues to refuse food. His family and fellow activists say his health has dramatically deteriorated.

“Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate,” press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said in a December 31 statement.

Prison authorities have claimed that Huseynov is not in fact on a hunger strike. “Mehman Huseynov is having food and water. He keeps contact with his family by telephone. He is not conducting a hunger strike. His health is also normal, and he enjoys all the rights he is allowed under the law,” said Mehman Sadigov, a prison service spokesman.  

On January 3, a group of activists held a rally in Baku demanding the Huseynov’s release, with posters depicting Huseynov and chanting “Freedom to Mehman.” Ten of the activists were detained by police.


Lamiya Adilgiz
i is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist.

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Politics

Senator Marco Rubio Calls for Immediate Release of Mehman Huseynov

The Azeri Times

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US Senator Marco Rubio called on official Baku to immediately release blogger Mehman Huseynov.

“Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov remains imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Now he is in a critical situation due to a hunger strike. The government of Azerbaijan should release him immediately,” the senator wrote in his blog on Twitter.

Recall that Huseynov continues his hunger strike for the 10th day in connection with a new case brought against him about alleged resistance to the warden in the prison, where he is serving a two-year term on defamation charges against the police

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